Northumberland’s Lynemouth Power Station has joined other leading organisations from the global bioenergy industry in launching the ‘Glasgow Declaration on Sustainable Bioenergy’ during COP26.

The signed declaration outlines the indispensable role that bioenergy will play in net zero ambitions agreed by the international community during the summit, a conclusion backed up by independent analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA.org), the respected and autonomous intergovernmental body.

It sets out a vision for the sustainable growth of the bioenergy sector to 2050 and reaffirms the ongoing commitment to sustainability principles including the management of natural resources, carbon accounting and protecting biodiversity.

Lynemouth Power Station was the first UK coal-fired power station to fully convert to biomass electricity generation, and has made significant progress to date having recently reported emissions 43% below grid average for 2020-21. It was one of the largest renewable investment projects in recent years and now generates 420MW of clean, low carbon electricity, enough to supply approximately 450,000 homes.

Fiona Macleod, managing director of Lynemouth Power Station, commented, “We’re facing a climate challenge and to reach net zero by 2050, we must do more. The Glasgow Declaration brings together key players in the biomass supply chain – from sustainable forestry through to the pellet producers, the shippers and ports to the electricity generators – all combining to reaffirm our commitment to work together to meet the net zero challenge and the international commitments made during COP26.

“We have achieved a lot so far, especially here at Lynemouth, and have a solid base upon which to build. Therefore, we want to make the maximum possible contribution to net zero by realising the full potential of sustainable bioenergy.”

Around 7% of the UK’s electricity is now supplied by bioenergy. Describing the role that bioenergy plays, Fiona explains, “Forests are nature’s rechargeable batteries – trees use energy from the sun to capture carbon dioxide from the air, fixing it as woody biomass. For millennia, humans have been using wood to keep warm, building shelters and lighting fires, and the carbon released back into the atmosphere when wood is burnt or decomposes can be absorbed by new plant growth in a cycle.

“Biomass is a way of storing solar energy. When it’s still and dark, when there’s no wind or sun, we still need heat, light and power. We may even see demand for electricity grow during these periods as heating migrates from natural gas and transport moves from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. Therefore, the role of power stations such as Lynemouth in contributing to the decarbonisation of the electricity sector is to provide reliable, low carbon electricity generation at any time, day or night, alongside other renewables.

“But there is a need for close cooperation with the forestry sector. Once you think of biomass as a solar energy store, it becomes clear just how important sustainable forestry is.

“Biomass power stations don’t generate electricity from otherwise useful timber. Instead, they take the residue from sustainable forestry such as bark, twigs and thinnings, and from the sawmills – sawdust and offcuts, transforming what would otherwise be waste into useful biomass pellets. This therefore increases the value of working forests by providing an income for lower-value fibre. An increase in the active management of forests improves their health and protects against the threats of disease, wildfire and infestation.”

However, Fiona also warns against complacency and for Lynemouth Power Station, this also means a comprehensive review of options for the plant from 2027 onwards when the current Contract for Difference scheme ends. This includes the potential for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) with negative CO2 emissions from BECCS allowing the UK to offset CO2 emissions from hard to decarbonise sectors – a major step change in current thinking and clearly an important tool for net zero.

She added, “This means working collaboratively with the wider bioenergy industry and the UK Government, and we have had very constructive dialogue with the Government during the review of its Bioenergy Strategy. We therefore welcome the recent update.

“Biomass has already provided a significant contribution towards decarbonisation of UK electricity generation, and the Government has recognised that, as a minimum, this needs to continue and where possible expand. We are making great progress in understanding what continued operations look like for Lynemouth after 2027 and how this fits into the wider net zero ambition. This includes a good understanding of how BECCS could be applied to the site, how this would interface with our existing operations, and what work is required to extend the operating period of the existing plant.”